An Old School Publication Grabs the Media Spotlight


Obama: The First Gay President on NewsweekPrint journalism matters!

That’s my conclusion after the gazillion news and opinion stories that exploded in response to the recent Newsweek cover featuring an image of President Obama wearing a rainbow-colored halo above the headline “The First Gay President.”

Yes, yes, yes! Despite print publications suffering a dramatic decline in readership and—more important—being in freefall mode when it comes to revenue, one of the country’s premier newsmagazines can still rile up the media world when it runs a provocative cover.

I was particularly impressed by the number of online venues that had strong reactions to their print cousin’s effort to grab some attention.

The Atlantic Wire opted to place the Newsweek observation in context. It did this by noting that Toni Morrison had called Bill Clinton “the first black president” back in 1998 because of his many traits coinciding with African-American tropes—being born poor, growing up in a single-parent household, playing the saxophone, loving junk food.


Building on that point, the Atlantic Wire article went on to point out that Obama has twice been called “the first woman president.” Newsweek was the first to change the president’s sex, saying he displayed “qualities and virtues that women bring to organizational life.” The Washington Post also gave Obama a vagina, saying in 2010 that his crisis management style was that of a woman.

Heaping on still more context, the online publication added that the Associated Foreign Press suggested in 2009 that Obama could be considered “the first Asian-American president” because he’d appointed an unprecedented three Asian Americans to his cabinet. Finally, the Atlantic Wire piece finished off its list by noting that Geraldo Rivera—yikes!—had offered up the possibility that Obama’s immigration policy qualified him to be considered “the first Hispanic president.”

Salon went a very different route in its reaction by blasting Newsweek as being “entirely wrong” in crowning Obama with a multi-colored halo, saying that adornment rightly belongs to America’s 15th president.President James Buchanan and William Rufus King
“There can be no doubt that James Buchanan was gay,” the online magazine insisted.

As evidence, it reproduced a portion of a letter that Buchanan wrote on May 13, 1848, shortly after “his great love, William Rufus King, senator from Alabama, had moved to Paris to become our ambassador to France.”

Salon went on to quote Buchanan as writing to a friend: “I am now ‘solitary and alone,’ having no companion in the house with me. I have gone a wooing to several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any of them. I feel that it is not good for man to be alone; and should not be astonished to find myself married to some old maid who can nurse me when I am sick, provide good dinners for me when I am well, and not expect from me any very ardent or romantic affection.”

Newsweek didn’t, on its inside pages, take things nearly so literally vis-à-vis Obama’s sexual orientation.

The author, Andrew Sullivan, made the argument that the president can relate to the LGBT experience because he grew up as a black child surrounded by a white mother and grandparents.

Andrew Sullivan“Barack Obama had to come out of a different closet,” wrote Sullivan, who is gay. “He had to discover his black identity and then reconcile it with his white family, just as gays discover their homosexual identity and then have to reconcile it with their heterosexual family.”

Sullivan continued, “The America he grew up in had no space for a boy like him: black yet enveloped by loving whiteness, estranged from a father he longed for (another common gay experience), hurtling between being a Barry and a Barack.”

In the article’s final paragraph, Sullivan concluded, “I have always sensed that he intuitively understands gays and our predicament—because it so mirrors his own.”

Personally, I think Sullivan’s point is a stretch. My problem with the author’s argument is best summarized in the question: Why now?

In other words, if Obama can relate to being gay because he grew up black in a white family, why didn’t he come out in support of same-sex marriage years ago?

I think the author is on firmer ground when he talks, early in the article, about political considerations that may have contributed to the president supporting marriage equality.

First on that list is that he’ll benefit from the financial support the LGBT community will now give him. “One in six of Obama’s fundraising bundlers is gay,” Sullivan wrote, “and he needs their money. Wall Street has not backed him financially this year the way it did in 2008.”
Second on the list is the millions of young people who will now energize Obama’s campaign. “If money was one factor making the move necessary,” Sullivan said, “the youth vote—essential to his demographic
Rodger Streitmatter coalition and overwhelmingly pro-marriage equality—clinches the logic of it. The under-30s were looking worryingly apathetic, especially compared with 2008. This would fire them up.”

Of course the overriding factor fueling the president’s decision is one I have to believe to be true, regardless of how print and online news venues have covered it. That is, Barack Obama is a fair-minded human being who truly opposes discrimination in any form, including against the LGBT community. His views on this issue have, as he told the nation, evolved over time until he’s reached the point that he now fully supports marriage equality.
By Rodger Streitmatter

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